“Baby, if I happened to die please don’t let your heart break over it. Find someone new and get happy again!”

“That’s how it is when we love someone.  We want them to be happy. But, I believe a lot of the stuff we think and worry about is more made up in our minds, rather than facts. Sometimes we like to make it hard on ourselves.” S. Ell

I read a lot of memoirs. I have always been hungry to learn how people respond to the vicissitudes of life, its joys and happiness—even its obstacles and sorrows.  I hope to get one substantive take-away from each one I read, one insight or motto that is a delectable secret about life.

Recently, I’ve been reading memoirs in which the author has lost his or her partner. Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” comes to mind.

If I could, I would read the memoirs of people, like me, who have married widows or widowers—but I haven’t been able to find any memoirs in that genre.

The other day, something I saw in the memoir I was reading triggered a thought.

Having married a man who was married to someone else for over 40 years, I was living the life that she had wanted to be living, the one she had paid all the membership dues on and that she had looked forward to. What right did I have to be there reaping the benefits of the “The Golden Years” with her husband instead of her?

It’s as if I was happy but she had to die in order for me to be happy. 

I imagined that I wouldn’t want to hear what she would have to say to me about it.

 Of course, as he is the first to claim,“One never knows what another’s marriage is really like.”

Maybe she wasn’t as happy down deep inside with David as I was? I didn’t know and I didn’t ask. I really didn’t want to put him in the position of having to compare. It was unfair and, as they say, “comparisons are odious.”

Still. It wasn’t the material things, such as he pays the mortgage, buys the cars, takes care of all the expenses and all the stuff that involves numbers and dollar signs that makes me feel like I’d stolen something from his late wife.

It was the immaterial things; the shared bottle of wine, the evenings listening to Schubert, the dinners, the stories …the moonlit nights.

It was the decision to move to San Diego on a moment’s notice and the jokes about the Costco Teddy Bear that now lives on our bed.

It was all the ineffable, intimate moments that I now have with him that she no longer has.

Of course, I know she and David had all of those moments themselves—at least their version of them—for 48 years.

Here I am now however, hoping to have them for at least 20 years more.

Joan Didion’s book was one big lesson in magical thinking and the ways in which we engage in it whether as a result of a spouse dying or not. As I delved back into the memoir I was reading I reminded myself of that.

My thoughts about my husband’s late wife, a woman I never knew or met, were all forms of magical thinking—the kind that put me in the unique position of keeping her more alive in our marriage than he did. When I’m not thinking magically about my marriage vis a vis my husband’s late wife, I can remember one particular take-away I’ve already gotten from the memoir I’m currently reading.

“La vie recommence,” the author writes.

 Life starts again.


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